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  • Writer's pictureThalia Polk

Melanoma

Welcome to part five of my skin cancer series. I hope that this series on skin cancer is providing you with awareness, knowledge, confidence and encouragement to engage in one of the most important elements of self-care: cancer screening.


Without further ado, let's get down to the business of discussing the third most common skin cancer, melanoma. Because melanoma has the ability to spread to other organs if not treated early, it is more dangerous (deadly) than both basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). When it comes to melanoma (or any cancer, truthfully), the importance of early detection cannot be overstated. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, The 5-year survival rate for patients in the U.S. whose melanoma is detected early is 99%. You read that right! 99%! This statistic illustrates perfectly that early detection is vital. Let's dive into a few more melanoma statistics and facts!


Stats & Facts:

Here are a few facts and statistics that I have gathered from the Skin Cancer Foundation at skincancer.org and the American Academy of Dermatology Association at aad.org and skincancer.net. Please visit their sites for more!

  • It is estimated that the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed this year will increase by 5.8 percent.

  • In alignment with this increase in new cases, the number of melanoma deaths is expected to increase by 4.8 percent.

    • These numbers equate to:

      • An estimated 207,390 cases of melanoma.

      • Of those, 106,110 cases will be in situ (noninvasive), confined to the epidermis (the top layer of skin).

      • 101,280 cases will be invasive, penetrating the epidermis into the skin’s second layer (the dermis)

        • Of the invasive cases, 62,260 will be men and 43,850 will be women. An estimated 7,180 people will die of melanoma in 2021. Of those, 4,600 will be men and 2,580 will be women.

  • The number of new invasive melanoma cases diagnosed annually has increased by 44 percent over the last decade (2011-2021).

  • The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun.

    • About 86% of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun according to a UK study.

  • 20 to 30 percent of melanomas are found in existing moles.

  • 70 to 80 percent of melanomas occur on apparently normal skin.

  • Melanoma accounts for 6% of new cancer cases in men, and 5% of new cancer cases in women.

  • Men aged 49 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer.

  • With the exception of breast and thyroid cancers, women age 49 and under are more likely to develop melanoma than any other cancer.

  • The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over the age of 55.

  • Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin - even on areas that never see the sun.

  • In women, melanomas are commonly found on the legs.

  • In men, the trunk is the number one place melanomas are found.

What are melanocytes?

Melanocytes are one of the four main types of cells found in the epidermis (the top layer of skin). They are responsible for giving our skin its color and for protecting us from UV rays by producing melanin. The epidermis consists of 5 layers. Melanocytes are produced in the stratum basale layer (bottom layer) of the epidermis. Migration of melanocytes is complicated, but occurs much the same as that of basal cells: from the basal layer of the epidermis, up to the top layer (stratum spinous). During migration their shape, nucleus, and chemical composition change.


What causes melanoma?

Melanoma develops when DNA damage from UV radiation occurs due to burning or tanning of the skin. This damage to the skin triggers changes (mutations) in the melanocytes, resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth.


Identifying melanoma:

As I have previously stated, when it comes to melanoma, early detection is vital. The key to early detection is recognizing spots that could be melanoma. Because melanoma develops in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and with varying symptoms, it is challenging to provide a comprehensive set of warning signs or visual identifiers. However, the following strategies are proven to be successful in identifying melanoma and possible melanoma lesions:

  • Look for anything new, changing or unusual on sun-exposed AND sun-protected skin. Here's how:

Use the A,B,C,D,E’s...

A: One half of the spot/lesion is unlike the other half. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves do not match.

B: Melanoma lesions tend to have an irregular border, whereas common moles have smoother, more even borders.

C: Look for different shades of tan, brown, or black. As the lesion grows, shades of red, white, and/or blue may also appear.

D: Melanomas can be any size. However, spots the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm or 1/4" in diameter) or larger need to be assessed by a Dermatologist as soon as possible.

E: Along with a change in size, color, shape or elevation, watch for a change in symptoms such as itching, bleeding and/or crusting, as these changes could indicate melanoma as well.


Please note: Since not all melanomas have the same appearance or characteristics, these photos are to be used as general reference only to illustrate what melanoma might look like. If you notice anything new, changing, or unusual on your skin please see a Dermatologist as soon as possible.


Look for the Ugly Duckling...

This melanoma recognition strategy is based on the concept that the majority of normal moles on your body look alike. When comparing normal moles to melanoma lesions, melanomas stand out like an ugly duckling.


One of the most effective ways to spot a possible melanoma is by comparing any suspicious spots to surrounding moles to determine whether or not it looks different from its neighbors.


The ugly duckling may be smaller, larger, lighter or darker than its neighbors. Additionally, any spots that are isolated from their neighbors are also considered ugly ducklings.


Here's another graphic that explains this strategy:










Melanoma Diagnosis Prognosis:

  • In the US, across all stages of melanoma, the average five-year survival rate is 93%.

  • The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99%.

  • When the disease reaches the lymph nodes, the survival rate falls to 66%.

  • When the disease metastasizes to distant organs, the survival rate falls again to 27%.

  • Men between the ages of 15 and 39 are 55% more likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age group.

Melanoma Risk Factors:

  • On average, having had more than five sunburns doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma.

  • Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

  • Unprotected or excessive UV exposure

  • Weakened immune system

  • Moles: having several of them; having large ones; having had atypical ones

  • Fair skin and light eyes

  • History of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer

  • Genetics

Melanoma Prevention:

  • Regular, daily use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50%.

  • Wear your sunscreen EVERY SINGLE DAY. Even on cloudy days!

  • When outdoors, make sure you apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours.

  • Seek shade when outside.

  • Wear protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

  • Take extra caution near sand, snow, and water.

  • Avoid tanning beds and sunbathing.

  • Install a protective window film to windows in your car and home.

  • Don’t forget the front windshield of your car!

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Monthly: examine yourself from head to toe once a month.

  • See your doctor if you find anything that does not seem right.

  • Annually: see a dermatologist for a skin exam and/or mole mapping.

Coming up…

Are you an indoor tanner? Does hearing about the different types of UV rays make your head spin? Don't miss next week's post, then! I'll break down the difference between the different kinds of UV rays and present all the reasons why you need to stop using the tanning bed ASAP. See you next week!


Until then, if you have questions about anything in this post please leave a comment right here in this post or email me at thaliapolkesthetics@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!


I would also love to help you achieve your skin goals!


To view my entire menu of services, head over to my website! Then, email me at thaliapolkesthetics@gmail.com, or DM me via Instagram or Facebook. I’ll get you set up with a comprehensive consultation and skin analysis, and we'll sail off on your skin transformation journey together!


XOXO,

Thalia

 

Did you miss my first four articles in this series? Check them out here:

 

References, graphics and photos:

Skin Cancer Foundation; skincancer.org

American Academy of Dermatology Association; aad.org

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